How to be rejected three times in a row!
Comment se faire rejeter trois fois de suite !
par Gilles Marion
One of my paper “The agency of material objects in the context of everyday consumption: a review “ has been lately rejected three times in a row. 1) Marketing Theory rejected it because the editors felt that it was not addressing an issue of interest for the readership. Therefore it was recommended to send it to Journal of Material Culture. 2) This journal rejected it because the editor felt that the paper did not add anything new to the field. 3) I sent the paper to Valuation Studies that rejected it as well, on the basis of no less than 20 different arguments and two reviewers suggest a complete rewriting of the paper. Ironically, Revue Française de Gestion (N° 265, mai 2017) has accepted the French version of this paper. Why is it so? I guess that reviewer C pinpoints the right problem when she/he suggesting to select a “dominant disciplinary/subfield perspective, e.g. economic anthropology or marketing, and write the paper from that perspective”. Therefore the main lesson is: if you want to be published don’t engage too much in an interdisciplinary perspective.
So I have decided to give up publishing this paper in English.
Please find attached a copy of the paper, a copy of the decision of the associate editor of Valuation Studies (1/02/2018) and the comments of three sympathetic and dedicated reviewers.
The agency of material objects in the context of everyday consumption: a review
This review presents a framework to understand the agency of material objects in the context of everyday consumption. We show that use value emerges from the interactive relationships between the objects’ action possibilities and the subjects’ competence. Any object is regarded as a mediator between the natural world and sensory experience or exploration. We suggest that the theme of adjustment is the most relevant issue to look at bodily learning and embodied familiarisation. The consequences of this perspective on the job of designers are finally considered.
Agency; use value; devices; objects; competence; practice
Most prevailing perspectives on consumption are insufficient to account for the agency of material objects. However the world of everyday objects is not populated by active subjects and passive objects but by interactive relationships between the two of them. To understand how objects partake in consumption we start with a reminder of the prevailing perspectives on consumption. Then we show how use value emerges from the interactive relationships between a competent subject and an object endowed with action possibilities. Any object is regarded as a mediator between the natural world and sensory experience or exploration. From that point of view it is endowed with agency. Finally we address some consequences of this perspective on the job of designers.
Prevailing theories of consumption and materiality
Consumption constitutes a topic of interest mostly to economics, sociology, anthropology, marketing and consumer research. The microeconomic framework, also referred to as the neoclassical paradigm, focuses in an abstract manner on market equilibrium and resources allocation. It is parsimonious and elegant: consumers know what they want and their purchases reveal theirs preferences (subject to income constraints). They want to maximise their ‘utility’, an all-encompassing concept, however incapable of being independently specified. This framework equates consumption with buying and favours exchange value and its expression: the price. Why people want the items and how the product is subsequently used is of no concern to this approach.
For Baudrillard (1969) demand, hence consumption emerges as a function of a variety of social practices rather than an emanation of human needs. Then he deconstructs needs (and the dichotomy between ‘real’ and ‘false’ needs) and use value (as an alibi) to see the emergence of what is essentially a sign and no longer just a product or a commodity. Value is sign-value and consumption entails the active manipulation of signs. Goods are signs able to float free from material entities. Production and reception of signs leads to a loss of stable meaning and an aestheticization of reality. Baudrillard treats the consumption of objects in term of the exchange of signs without exploring the relation between sign value and practical use value. Such a perspective has paved the way to what is called the post-modern conditions in which commodities are not valued for their use but mostly understood as possessing a meaning and a cultural dimension.
For Bourdieu (1984) goods are used to mark social differences. Taste in consumer goods and lifestyle are structured by opposition between specific class fractions and finely graded distinctions. Preferences involved the discriminatory judgment, which at the same time identify and render classifiable a particular judgment of taste to others. The universe of taste and lifestyle practices, which operate within a particular society at a particular point of history, is associated with specific class fractions and with the culture capital that enables particular groups to understand and classify goods properly. Bourdieu’s approach focus on ‘what’ people consume and is very little focus on ‘how’ they consume. Indeed, consumption orientations are constrained by volume of economic and cultural resources but his framework fails to account for ‘the procedures of everyday creativity’ (Certeau 1984: xiv).
Economic anthropology is focusing mostly on commodity circulation and exchange. Appadurai (1986) emphasizes on exchange as the source of economic value. Then he argues that a commodity is any object intended for exchange. The commodity form is dominant and use value is subordinated to exchange value. However, through the concept of ‘social life of things’ he acknowledges the dynamic qualities of objects. He recognizes that the commodity is not a particular category of goods but a limited phase of the social life of objects: they may be moved both into and out of the commodity state.
Meanwhile social anthropologists have been discussing extensively on the relations between people and objects. Some researchers argue that objects can ‘act’ causing persons to do or allowing them to achieve what they otherwise could not. Others contend that this is mostly the effect of commodity fetishism concealing exploitative social relations. According to Marx’s theory, commodity fetishism should disappear in any form of production other than capitalism. But for Kopytoff (1986: 72) ‘the extensive commoditization (we) associate with capitalism is (thus) not a feature of capitalism per se, but of the exchange technology that, historically, was associated with it’. The fetish quality of any fashion items, any managerial tools or any celebrities is not an intrinsic quality of such objects: the term fetishism refers to the relative quality of desire and fascination for an object. Then ‘the fetishist quality of objects varies over time and place and between different group of people’ (Dant 1996: 514). However ‘Fetish has always been a word of sinister pedigree’ (Pietz 1985: 5) and the term fetishist is mostly useful as a name for someone who accuses someone else of being fetishist.
Traditional marketing management emphasizes customer rationality and means-ends instrumentality. Its approach is more attuned than microeconomic to considering what happens to a product or a service once it has been sold. But proponents of marketing define offerings as a bundle of ‘pre-packaged benefits’ for the ‘king-customer’. Marketers use alternatively the terms buyer, customer, consumer and sometimes, shopper or user. However they mostly focus on purchasers: people who hesitate in front of various offerings, compare labels, make cost/benefit calculations and finally choose to allocate some financial resources to one of the offerings.
To present a more realistic alternative to this framework of consumer behaviour, the concepts of bounded rationality (Simon 1972) and procedural rationality (Simon 1976), was recognized by experts in consumer behaviour. They admit that customers do not always have enough experience and information to make a decision. The complexity of the situation and their inability to compute the expected utility of every alternative suggest that they will use heuristics to make decisions rather than a strict rigid rule of optimisation. Moreover, looking at market practice in situation, Lave et al. (1984) show that cognition is distributed between purchasers and material devices. This hypothesis is shared by the advocates for situated action and distributed cognition, who underline that the cognitive processes of all actors are shaped through their activities and framed by the situation in which these processes are performed.
Vargo and Lusch (2004) have recently offered a new approach of marketing logic, from goods to services, which grants some interest to use value. By doing so, they meet the contributions of Consumer Culture Theory most notably about resources mobilised by consumers in order to produce value (Arnould et al. 2006). Both approaches rightly refer to the central role of consumer competence in the emergence of use value. However they pay little attention to sensory exploration of objects through their materiality.
Most experts in the field of consumer behaviour focus upon the symbolic significance of goods and their role in constituting individual or group identities. They focus attention on human meanings and identities acquired through objects but they ignore the performance of material entities. Therefore those approaches have gone deeper and deeper into the consumer psyche and have neglected what material entities could bring to the understanding of consumption (Cochoy, 2007, 2008; Araujo, Finch & Kjellberg, 2010; Cochoy et al, 2016).
From consumers’ perspective consumption is not to be equated with purchase. Indeed, in contemporary Western society, social practices are increasingly dependent upon items obtain through markets as commodities. However practices (cooking, gardening, home improvement, selection of clothing outfits or sports) are not to be reduced to consumer experience and certainly not to customer experience. Practices usually depend upon material and semiotic devices and most of them entail some level of material appropriation and investment of resources and competence. Then, a key issue for research is how individuals learn how to be competent customers, consumers, practitioners or users.
For Latour (1996) any human interaction makes some appeal to objects or devices. Action must be shared with these non-humans. They have the ability to act socially through ‘faire-faire’, meaning in French ‘to make one do’ and ‘causing to be done’ (Latour 1999). The conjunction of a subject with an object gives rise to a hybrid formation. A human with a smartphone, for instance, is no longer a human and a smartphone, but a ‘human-smartphone hybrid’. Such a hybrid: 1) can perform actions, (connect with other humans, access entire libraries of information, geolocate itself and others, etc.) and; 2) embodied the competence necessary for achieving such actions. Then competence is distributed across human and non-human entities (Watson and Shove 2008: 78).
Following Latour, Cochoy (2007) suggests that consumer research could study objects with the same attention it mobilizes for the analysis of consumer behaviour. A new avenue for understanding customer behaviour in complex societies could attend to what he calls ‘market-things’, e.g. the wide array of devices that channel and structure customer experience: aisles, open shelves, price tags, packaging, shopping carts, cash registers or loyalty cards. Marketplaces are full of devices laden with their own agency. All these devices are not static backdrops to customer action; they partake in the emergence of exchange value. The sociology of market-things focuses mostly on how market agencements shapes shopping behaviour and transactions (Cochoy 2008). However it does not develop the relationships between humans and objects beyond purchase. That is the situation when objects are constituted in their very use and when users make sense out of their ordinary use of such objects.
Exchange value and value in use
For economics and marketing management, being of value means being apt to receive a price at the time of the exchange. The relevant feature is exchangeability (past, present or future). This movement away from regarding goods as having use value pays little attention to the process of making use – practically and symbolically – of an object. However Aristotle, who is quoted by Adam Smith as well as by Karl Marx, speaks of what is ‘peculiar to the things’: ‘With every article of property there is a double way of using it; both uses are related to the article itself, but not related to it in the same manner – one is peculiar to the thing and the other is not peculiar to it. Take for example a shoe – there is its wear as a shoe and there is its use as an article of exchange; for both are ways of using a shoe, inasmuch as even he that barters a shoe for money or food with the customer that wants a shoe uses it as a shoe, though not for the use peculiar to a shoe, since shoes have not come into existence for the purpose of barter.’ (Aristotle 1944 section 1257a). From the point of view of consumers it is precisely the ‘peculiar’ use value of an object that is of interest.
If we return our attention to the total trajectory of objects from production to consumption through exchange, we see that they can move, under the appropriate circumstances, in and out of the commodity state, that is between exchange value and use value. Then we are facing ’two different systems of values: that of the marketplace and that of the closed sphere of personally singularised things’ (Kopytoff 1886: 80). Singularisation is not necessarily a process that is private to the individual valuation. As far as an object is embedded in particular social contexts, specifically with respect to fashion, singularisation may inhere in local culture: family, age-based and gender-based groups, tribes or class hierarchy. Then we acknowledge that ‘consumption is eminently social, relational and active rather than, private, atomic or passive.’ (Appadurai 1986: 31). Nevertheless ‘the difference between commodities, that is objects reduced to their exchange value, and the private meanings and values that individuals attribute to them’ (Hockey et al. 2015: 29) has to be recognized.
What happens when objects leave the market place to enter the consumer’s private or domestic sphere? When an object such as a ‘trainers’ shifts from a commoditised sphere to a local or private sphere (Hockey et al. 2015). On this issue, which is the matter of value in use, most of the prevailing theories on consumption remain silent. But from the consumer’s point of view, what is central is the process of singularisation and appropriation that transforms a resource coming from the marketplaces into a familiar object. This process takes place along with the emergence of value in use that, for durable goods, lasts several years. As practices, consumption and user experiences should not be confused with customer experience. They differ in scope and temporality. Consumption experiences are derived from interacting with product and/or services while customer experience refer mostly to shopping and purchasing processes. Therefore practices that occur within a customer journey are a subset of consumption experiences.
Campbell (2005) offers a description of consumption practices accomplished by the craft consumer, an individual able to transform ‘off-the-shelf’ objects. Such an approach doesn’t refer to people who devote a great deal of effort and time to ensuring that they obtain ‘value for money’, it focuses on the process of integration of resources in private or domestic sphere. In the same vein, Watson and Shove (2008) explore relations between products, practices and projects with reference to do-it-yourself and home improvement. Both approaches highlight the co-productive activity of consumers. Not only do they exercise personal control over all the activity, they also bring competence, judgement and even passion to it. Consumption is an activity of production and not ‘destruction’ and we have to seriously consider people’s ‘ways of using the products’ coming from the marketplaces (Certeau 1984: xii).
Then we follow Kopytoff (1986: 68) ‘a commodity is a thing that has use value and that can be exchanged in a discrete transaction’. But where does the ‘thing’ come from and who made it? We argue that an object is a certain kind of thing endowed with peculiar qualities. Stones, sand, tree branches, animals’ skin are things. As soon as they have been transformed in one way or another those material substances may become objects. A polished stone could become a tool, sand could become glass, a branch a weapon, skin leather, and a feather a writing instrument. No objects can exist without a subject giving them a destination and an ability ‘to make something happen’ and by doing so giving them a qualification.
The elementary qualification process of an object appears clearly when individuals with little knowledge are facing a toolbox. They will ask: ‘What is it exactly?’ Answer: ‘A clamp’. New question: ‘What is it used for?’ ‘It‘s a device that holds parts tightly together’. The process is similar with the discovering of kitchen utensils, garden tools or icons on a smartphone. Objects are first defined through their practical use. Once an object receives a name – a common name shared by all the objects of the same category – it is endowed with some properties, i.e. ‘to be of some use’ and to help the implementation of an action programme by the user. An elementary action programme being defined as a transformation: the transition from one state to another. Even before any user has started using it, the thing has gained the status of object. It has received a precise name and belongs to some category; its modus operandi can be identified, and even precisely described by a script (Akrich 1992). In a nutshell, it is qualified. It is then possible for users to start the process of appropriating it to their private sphere. Thus, some questions have received answers: ‘What is it?’ ‘What is it used for?’ or, better, ‘How does it work?’ We are progressively coming close to the emergence of value in use.
The emergence of value in use
Value is not a substance embedded in the object. Neither is it entirely determined by a cultural analysis grid because attributions of value are not entirely symbolic. Value results from the interactive relationships between a subject and an object. It does not stem from the consumer/user’s mind, nor from the object unless in a virtual state, but from the relationship between the two of them. As well as benefits of reading emerge from the interaction of a text with its reader (Eco 1985). The value of any object (hand tools, instruments or machines) is actualised through its interaction with a competent subject. A subject equipped with a power tool for drilling and screw driving can do more and better than a subject deprived of that object (Watson and Shove 2008: 78). It is this combination that leads to a hybrid able to make a performance happen. A hybrid is combining human and non-human ‘actants’. An actant, a concept borrowed by Latour from semiotic (Greimas and Courtès 1982), is a source of action. It has the capacity of making a difference, produce effects and alter the course of events. Its competence is deduced from its performance.
Such a relational approach to value entails two main analytical implications: 1) the end terms of the relationships, i.e. the subject and the object, are not qualified in advance, prior to their interaction. Their identity is shaped through interactive relationships and; 2) the actants’ qualification process is accompanied by the distribution of competence. Thus, returning to our example of the power tool: 1) to perform a task such as ‘screw driving’ requires the shaping of the actant subject as a ‘skilful hobbyist’ (endowed with know how) and the shaping of the actant object as an ‘effective tool’ (adapted to this action) and; 2) the competence required to perform a proper screw driving are distributed between both actants.
Any object offers opportunities for action. Making a dishwasher or a computer work, using a fork or a knife, it is making them do what they are intended for. In that perspective a material object is a quasi-subject. ‘Quasi’ because, contrary to humans, material objects have neither intention nor project. They have a peculiar modus operandi that may be implemented by users to serve one of their action programmes. The source of value for users results from the implementation of one of action opportunities.
The word affordance, neologism suggested by Gibson (1979: Chap. 8), refers to a relational dimension. An object’s affordance ‘informs’, ‘suggests’ on what can be done with it: a chair affords to sit, a mailbox to post a letter, the button of a computer mouse to click, a door handle to open or shut it, and an ambulance siren to move our vehicle on the side of the road. Objects offer an action potential to subjects. That is why affordances should be conceived as possibilities for action. However subjects do not perform all possible actions. If affordances are not perceived, or have not been discovered, they do not have the potential to attract (or repel) the according behaviour of subjects. Affordances are action possibilities that can ‘invite’ behaviour but a prerequisite for affordances to invite is the presence of a subject. Invitations depend on the relation between the physical properties of the object and the personal experience of the subject. Affordances do not cause behaviour but simply make it possible. An invitation can always be declined. Even if subjects often unreflectively respond to objects or environment’s solicitations all affordances are not systematically used at a given place and a given time. If the actualisation of an affordance requires great effort, it is not likely to invite a subject to act. The actualisation of objects’ affordances is pending on a subject’s competence. It can vary on a moment-to-moment base, and might be different for different subjects. The proper unit of analysis to understand affordances is the subject-object relation.
Therefore the value of objects can be considered either in its virtual state or when it is actualised. The value of objects is in a virtual state when their qualification (their categorisation and their evaluation) is referring to their action possibilities. This type of potato is the best to mash or to make chips, that one works best in a salad or steamed. The cook has many options. An electric screwdriver makes assembling a piece of furniture that needs a lot of screwing much easier and faster. The handyman has many options. A vehicle can transport people or goods, but it can also make one enjoy speed or arouse people’s admiration, while a vintage car can make people dream. Through a mental experience, subjects can imagine and anticipate the potential value of objects and the satisfaction they could lead to.
The value of objects is actualised by subjects’ action when they interact with objects in order to perform an action programme. This potato is transformed into chips. The 154 screws of the bookshelf bought in kit are screwed without effort. The car makes it possible to take the children to school every morning. This actualisation process takes place during a lived experience defined by the situation and the subjects’ competence, thus by their acquired experience. Objects acquire meanings and values through the use made of them and because of their role in accomplishing specific practices or projects.
Let’s keep things simple: to travel by car, a driver and a car are needed; to create a stylish outfit, a body wearing pieces of clothing are needed; to fire a gunshot, a shooter and a weapon are needed. It is always a matter of conjunction of a subject with an object in a situation. Therefore, the value of such actions doesn’t originate from subjects or from objects. Admittedly, it is objective, seeing as it depends on the features of an object. But it is also subjective, because it cannot emerge without the subjects’ competence. In other words, it is not objective nor subjective but both, because it involves the hybrid created by their interaction. Use value is not a substance, it stems from the interactive relationships between competent subjects and objects endowed with action opportunities.
As with the notion of affordance, the dichotomy subject/object is abandoned. Subjects and objects shape and transform one another. Subjects are what they can do with objects and what they do is co-shaped by the objects they use. To demonstrate the emergence process of value and the agency of objects, we have to observe the participation of objects in everyday life. Then appear the active role of objects and their mediation.
Usually, knowing the name and function of an object is not enough to carry out the action programme in which, commonly, it can play a part. One also has to know how to ‘make it work’. Moving from ‘How does it work?’ to the sensory experience of ‘Making it work’ we enter the field of practice (Reckwitz 2002; Warde 2005; Shove et al. 2012). Any practice implies a learning process able to alter the subjects’ competence. In addition, using a kitchen utensil or a music instrument does not involve the same processes as using an automobile or a computer: the class of objects (tool/instrument versus machine) creates specific interactive relationships. It is therefore necessary to recognise the diversity of interaction schemes depending first on the subjects’ competence and, two, on the class of objects.
Novices, virtuosos and sensory exploration
Learning how to use an object most often starts with acquiring a so-called ‘theoretical’ knowledge. But reading an instruction manual or listening to an insider’s explanations is rarely enough. Use instructions are fixed prior to use. They offer a name that freezes the meaning of object and sometimes a script that describes its modus operandi. Then they favour the future user’s cognitive competence. However for the object to make sense, the subject has to try out it, to test it and, moreover, to be tested by it. The practice of an object pertains first to a sensory experience and may lead to an active examination when it’s a matter of knowing how to do with the object. From an instruction manual to practice we move from a relationship dominated by cognitive processes to a sensory exploration. It isn’t the relationship with the idealised picture offered by a packaging or a catalogue, but an active sensing and an embodied experience through multimodal engagement (vision, touch, hearing, smell or taste). Through sensory exploration subjects discover the peculiar properties of objects and some possible actions.
The learning of windsurfing will illustrate some of these processes. Beginners are confronted to a complex material device. Its various components are designated by a specialised vocabulary: board, rig, mast, wishbone, sail, etc. Some basic principles have to be learned: how to figure out the wind direction? How to get the sail out of the water? How to move forward? How to change direction? The components of the device have a very specific meaning, but they will only make sense when the body of the sailor will experience their mediation with the natural environment (water, waves, wind). Trying to apply some rules, beginners are still fumbling. Recurrent falls will occur before a first adjustment with the device leads to a first ride. A more fluid practice will help sailors to realise that, as well as when riding a bicycle, it is speed that enables them to reach a dynamic equilibrium. Gradually beginners will learn how to steer the board, they will be able to sail to a chosen point and return to the starting point.
Through sensory exploration, and beyond the initial theoretical knowledge, each component of the windsurfer and the device as a whole will make sense for beginners. When interacting with the windsurfer their whole body will be involved in a continual fine adjustment with the material device (Dant 1998: 91-92): they progressively learn how to explore the mediation of the equipment with water and wind and learn how to interpret the windsurfer’s sensory properties. With the development of this competence novices are gradually transformed. They will leave the status of beginners and enter gradually the vast category of experienced people, which encompasses the sailors who master an advanced level as well as those, more expert, who love speed and wave riding. Indeed the most competent sailors are the champions. They have worked long to master all the techniques and excel in creative performances.
This rough system of classification (from beginners to champions) highlights three typical interaction schemes. Beginners’ practice can be described by the didactic exercises that enable the learning of basic action programmes. The practice of experienced sailors can be described by the mastering of several techniques. The practice of champions, beyond the pre-set action programmes, seems liberated from body restraints. Mastering the body (movements, tensions, time) allow for a virtuoso performance, creative and aesthetic. While virtuosity is a very common word used in the musical world this concept can be applied to individuals in a wide variety of occupations; whether the performer is a musician or an athlete, a writer, a chef or a chess player. What are the lessons of the windsurfing example?
– Having meaning is not making sense. Some instructions may deliver the meaning of an object, but a sensory exploration is required to make sense of any material device. The meaning of an object relates to what can possibly be done, while making sense requires the actualisation of its action opportunities. And it is difficult to verbally express the competence sailors have developed as well as it is difficult for any instructor to define clearly such a competence. That is the distinction Polanyi (1966) makes between ‘tacit knowledge’ (a know-how and an embodied knowledge) and ‘explicit knowledge’ that can be adequately articulated through verbal means.
– The relationships between the object (windsurf), the subject (windsurfer) and the environment in which they operate together (water, waves, wind) result from a continual and mutual adjustment and not only from a sensory exploration. With such an adjustment the object must be regarded as a mediator between the subject’s body and the natural environment. A body control from head to toe is required. The development of the subject’s competence results mostly from a bodily learning rather than from an intellectual or a cognitive learning.
– Personal trajectory within the practice of windsurfing goes through the accomplishment of successive action programmes which contributes to the continuous improvement of subjects’ competences: the cognitive, practical, social, cultural and ideological competences needed to identify the various categories of sailors and material devices through multiples codes, body postures and gestures; one of the primary conditions for group or tribe membership. Consequently the qualification and identity of the subject will be transformed. Conversely the equipment will be transformed by its owner through individual tuning: trimming marks for quick rigging, lighter boom, reduced tube diameter for small hands, individual batten setting or personalised foot-straps (von Hippel 2005: 1-2).
The objection could be made that those lessons are specific to windsurfing practice or to sports context. On the contrary we argue that the practice of any tool or instrument follows this same logic. According to Barthes (2002 Tome IV: 267 and Tome II: 403-410) this logic can be identified in the field of writing instruments: scriptors have enough skills to put words on a paper, écrivants have only the power to combine pre-existing texts in new ways, écrivains know how to create a work of literature by the power of their original imagination. Table I summarizes these typical schemes.
Table I: Interaction schemes related to the subject’s competence
The dynamic of competence: diverting, exceeding and technological change
The meaning of an object is fixed by a name enclosing its use in the range of a specific function. But there is a priori no limitation as to interactive relationships and sense making. Knowing ‘What it is’ or even ‘How to use it’ does not preclude either the possibility of guessing new ways of using it and departing from conventional use (diverting use), or the possibility of a use exceeding, more or less virtuously, its accepted meaning.
It is always possible to divert an object from its original category, giving it a new function. Whatever the function attributed by its name and its affordance, it is always possible to re-qualify it in order to use it for purposes other than those attributed by its common name: a knife used to screw, a hat to get rid of an insect, a chair as a step ladder. Users can transform and adapt the properties of objects to other functions. Certeau (1984: xii) calls ‘poaching’ those practices of diversion while Lévi-Strauss (1966) calls them ‘bricolage’ and, today, ‘hacking’ means the act of engaging in activities in a spirit of playfulness and exploration using various resources to freely make objects for personal purpose (Lallement 2015).
It is also possible to develop virtuosity in ways of operating or doing things through a performance that exceeds conventional usage. Such a performance is admittedly reserved to celebrated virtuosos (top chef, athlete, musician or great poet). However the practice of any object (kitchen utensil, bicycle or writing instrument) may give rise to an accomplishment that goes beyond its programmed use. Exceeding and diverting conventional usage mean that the design of objects is not yet complete when they leave the factory, it can continue in practice. Then users have to be view as co-designers of objects (von Hippel et al 2012) through ‘tactics’ articulated in the details of everyday life
In addition, what an object can do evolves with technological change and innovations. For instance, returning to our windsurfer example, their first generation was a heavy device that fit with strong men. The introduction of composite materials reduced length and weight. Therefore transportation and getting on the water was made easier. Then through its successive re-qualifications the actant ‘windsurfer device’ changes the distribution of competence. The competence previously embodied in the sole subject (physically strong enough), have been transferred to the device (its size and lightness). The dynamic of distributed competences (Watson and Shove 2008) is fuelled by the material competence of an object (what it can do) and by the development of subject competence (a learning process).
Hand tools and instruments versus machines
Objects such as a hand tool, a kitchen utensil or an acoustic guitar must be held correctly to work properly. The subjects’ adjustment with hand tools or instruments takes place through haptic exploration, which includes awareness of skin stimulations in the context of bodily actions. Using a washing machine or a computer is a different story. The programmer of a washing machine or the keyboard of a computer does not give a direct grasp on their modus operandi. The programme initiated is out of control of the average individual who most often lacks knowledge on the system.
Thus, two large classes of objects have to be distinguished: hand tools/instruments versus machines. Musical instruments’ action programme (to produce sounds) and tools’ action programme (to slice, to uncork or to drive a screw) stops as soon as they leave human hands. But machines with some internal or external power source can work autonomously and can operate according to their own action programme. Learning to use a hand tool or an instrument begins with the discovery of the correct way to hold it and to adopt the right body posture. Learning to use a machine requires being familiar with the control of the unit’s functions: what is the position of the programme selector for a quick wash at 40°? What is the specific icon to open the Web browser? Such a learning process can simply be cognitive and the subject must let the machine do its jobs.
The manipulation of hand tools or instruments involves the closest possible contact with these objects. A handgrip is needed throughout the whole process associated with subtle adjustments. Such ‘ways of operating’ (Certeau 1984: 30) belong to the ‘art of practice’. The use of a machine only requires to physically control the right body movements: a pressure of the index on the trigger of the electric drill, a finger to click on the right button of the keyboard, the tip of the foot to press the accelerator pedal. The machine appears to be a quasi-subject with a distinct role and regular patterns in the achievement of predefined performances.
However the naive humanising of these objects must be avoided. The advertising speech claiming that they can operate alone (do laundry, remove dust, mow the grass or tell the best route) creates the illusion that those devices can be manipulated just like human subjects. But a machine has neither intentionality nor project, only action programmes. The intentional content, if there is one, has to be indentified either in the designer’s project or in the user’s project. For users, knowing how to manipulate an object is to know how to benefit from its virtual action programmes. More precisely, it is to know how to match a project with some of the object’s action programmes: everybody knows that when programming properly an alarm clock it will strike when the desired time comes.
However the difference between hand tools/instruments and machines is a matter of practice. For instance, a piano functions according to the regular pattern of a programmed machine. Each bar of the keyboard is corresponding to a single note and this knowledge is sufficient to plink out a few notes. However playing the piano is a practice that goes beyond ‘plinking around’ on the keyboard. In the same way, relationships with car are associated with various interaction schemes. It can simply be seen as a machine to be directed. But the feeling of driving can also be understood as both a profoundly embodied and sensory experience associated with high speed or sports driving (Sheller 2004). Table II summarizes these typical schemes.
Table II: Interaction schemes related to class of objects
The agency of material objects and the role of adjustments
Who and what is acting in the everyday practices of objects? Objects can ‘make one do’ and can shape their users. In this process an object goes from possibilities for action to the actualisation of a material act while the subject’s competence is transformed. The agency of objects emerges in two typical situations: 1) in the context of inter-objective devices and; 2) through sensory experience and sensory exploration.
1. Inter-objective devices
Material devices and silent artefacts most often frame human interactions. Action must be shared with these nonhumans that prescribe or proscribe possible action for subjects and constraint their interactions (Latour 1996). Inter-objectivity refers to the relational process that involves both subjects and objects in a given situation. This process frames human interactions and shapes inter-subjective relationships.
Winner’s classic article (1980) provides the example of the overpasses constructed so low to the ground that public buses couldn’t pass under them. Consequences of this material device: according to Winner these bridges prevent lower-income people and racial minorities from easily accessing the beachfront playgrounds. Speed bumps are shaking a vehicle and prevent drivers from speeding (Latour 1992). Consequences of this material device: encourage drivers to be circumspect, disciplined and watchful.
Looking at the morphology of executive office furniture, Floch (1993) shows that they can established hierarchical or egalitarian relationships and then are framing staff working relationships. On the contrary a coffee machine situated in the lobby fosters small, casual, everyday interactions in a neutral space. Those artefacts embody and display a particular set of values, suggesting course of action. In the same vein Deni (2001) shows how the layout of seating within train carriages impacts on passengers’ experience. A single seat affords individual activity. Two seats facing each other encourage family or friendly interactions. A compartment looks like a saloon and can lead to conversation. This inter-objective device (aisles, partitions, seats, tables…), frames inter-subjective relationships and shapes its users. Then, as well as a text creates its own ‘model-reader’ (Eco 1979), such artefacts frame relationships and shape their own ‘model-users’.
Grandclément (2009) underscores the redistribution of competence resulting from the development of self-service versus over-the-counter selling. The ‘technology’ of the supermarket, which today seems so natural, has eliminated the counter, widened choice, and changed the transportation of products. Retail sales logistics shifted over to customers. They have to serve themselves among products presented on open shelves. Information is communicated via the product itself through its packaging and its brand. Shopping cart allows goods to travel easily from the store shelves to the trunk of the customer’s car. All the material devices of the self-service have offered new opportunities and constraints, changed the distribution of competence and, in so doing, have shaped the new ‘modern’ consumer.
The proponents of nudge (Thaler and Sunstein 2008) argue that in some situations the design of a ‘choice architecture’ can alter people’s behaviour in a predictable way. It is the case, for instance, of the coin-operated locking mechanism to encourage shoppers to return a shopping cart to the correct location after use; serving wine in smaller glasses to encourage less drinking; putting fruit at eye level in a cafeteria to increase likelihood of getting chosen in order to encourage a more balance diet. A choice architecture is framing choices for users. However the concept of nudge is still a vague one. Perhaps, it could be more precise if its material dimension would be underscored. All in all, inter-objective devices build a context for the coordination of individual and collective practices. They frame subjects’ action while subjects/objects interactive relationships are shaping actants.
2. Sensory experience and sensory exploration
A car can suggest to the driver with a red light or an alarm sound to fasten the seat belt. A heavy hotel key encourages customer to leave it at the reception desk (Akrich and Latour 1992). An hydraulic door closer absorbs the energy of those who open the door, retains it, and then releases it slowly in a similar manner to what one could expect from a well-trained butler (Latour 1992). A remote control allows people to surf from channel to channel and can turn its user into a couch potato (Latour 2005). The morphology of the handle of an ergonomic toothbrush constrains how the toothbrush must be held thanks to its shape and texture. An adjustment that influences the contact of the brush head with the subject’s teeth and changes their brushing. In short, the sensory experience of a material object is changing subject’s action and is shaping subject’s identity.
Sensory experience is immediate while sensory exploration is self-aware. Subjects have to know what they are doing. Thévenot (1994: 84-94) reveals the adjustments associated with the exploration of new objects and the familiarisation of users with some technical objects: cameras, electric knifes or strollers. Users are groping, proceed carefully and resort to trial and error. They do not only rely on visual cues (indicator lights, dial or screen) they use tactile, haptic, information (resistance to push, blockage, excess of heat) and audio cues (grinding or clicking noises). Users watch for signs of activity from the object in order to judge consequences of their action. Disappointing results led to adaptations and corrections through trial and error and ‘responses’ from the object. This embodied familiarisation is associated with the development of habits and routines. Users will accept some defaults and will adapt their behaviour: the precious tip to start the appliance, the area to be avoided with the stroller or the way to fix a stuck zipper. They will also tinkering in order to prevent or compensate some malfunction and, sometimes, they will customise object to fit the deployment of routines.
Such adjustments shape both object and subject. The object is no more a new mass-produced product. It is a unique possession singled out by a particular posture or gesture or by minor tinkering. Some items get better with age: blue denim, leather shoes, leather bags and some good hats. Over time the competence, which results from this habituation is distributed between the object and the subject. Winance (2010), gives a good example of the dynamic of adjustments. Looking at the interaction between a wheelchair and a disable person, she shows that mobility is the result of a process of reciprocal adaptation. In this process the status of the wheelchair and the person’s space for movement (both social and physical) are gradually and mutually shaped. The actant wheelchair is shaped through usage and is shaping its user and the family.
Professionals of theatre performances refer to stages clothes as signs, visual messages that can provide audiences with information about characters’ personality and the historical period or geographic location in which the director has opted to place the play. They put the emphasis either on the point of view of the director or on the reception of costumes by audience. But, the sensory exploration of actors is quite different. Stage clothes and shoes suggest body gestures, accentuate or disturb movements and, finally change the character’s identity on stage.
It is through adjustments, during usage, that objects make sense. The repeated contact with the materiality of objects changes subjects’ competence and shapes their identity. That is the effect of objects agency. Conversely the process of familiarisation changes objects. Mutual and progressive processes of adjustments between subjects and objects can be acknowledged in a variety of practices, windsurfing as well as musical instruments. More broadly, those processes relate to the practice of all objects that requires a bodily learning process and an embodied familiarisation, whether it is toothbrushes, strollers or stage clothes. Subjects and objects, bodies and material devices, cannot be regarded as having a whole set of granted and fixed properties prior to their interactions. Rather they are shaped, in practice, through particular adjustments.
Some consequences on the design process
The traditional perspectives on objects downplay the effects of their materiality. This situation is damaging for the practice of design. The product designer’s key contribution cannot be view as adding aesthetic value to offerings desperately seeking for product differentiation (Shove and Araujo 2010). Designers fully aware of the meaning of their jobs, know that it is to shape and communicate possible actions of objects and to provide directions for future use. They have to consider that the source of their value is not entirely symbolic and some colloquial expressions like ‘look and feel’, ‘user friendly’ or ‘goose bumps’ are used in respect to sensory experience. Then we need a framework to look at the main issues of design. Table III summarizes such a framework.
Table III: A framework for the design of objects
The main issue of the design intents is to make sure that the expected effects of the project are legitimate and/or to implement the process of their legitimisation. Needless to say, for instance, that designing a material device that prevents homeless people from sleeping on public benches is highly debatable. All design is unavoidably going to affect people’s behaviour even if it is not the designers’ intention. So they have to clarify the definition of the targets (an individual and/or collective subject) in the relevant social system. Markets are social and political constructions (Fligstein, 1996). That’s why a political economy framework is the most useful for the analysis of social interactions. A pivotal polity issue is to promote legitimacy of the project by meeting the ‘demands’ of various stakeholders having partly common and partly conflicting goals, including individuals, families, journalists, firms, organisation, government authorities non-profit associations, etc. The strategic diffusion of a new material device must simultaneously address individual issues and develop collective actions in a persistent manner. Storytelling have to create a narrative that can be used over and over to justify the project. For instance, the use of safety belts results not only from several innovations (it was invented in 1903). Numerous initiatives, undertaken by manufacturers, user associations and public authorities, were required for many years to be made this use a ‘common’ practice.
A material device and its script offer action possibilities for future users. Objects’ affordances are additional opportunities for subjects’ action. Then the value of objects is in a virtual state and subjects are shaped as ‘model-users’. Some of their actions are encouraging or discouraging by material devices that prescribe or proscribe specific behaviours. Objects that require a bodily learning process and an embodied familiarisation should help foster the processes of adjustment with users. However designers cannot predict all behavioural eventualities. A specific user’ s way of doing is out of the designers’ hands. But they can try to design devices facilitating habitual behaviours without imposing too much change.
Usage is often not in the manner in which producers or providers intended or anticipated. Designers have to make clear, as far as possible, the possible impacts of their project. Not only to the point of delivery to users, but also afterwards, evaluating the positive and negative consequences on individual and collective practices. The value of objects is actualised through users’ lived experience. Adjustments shape both subjects and objects. They are mobilising subjects’ competence during bodily learning process while objects are changed in the process of embodied familiarisation. The design of objects is not yet complete when they leave the factory, it can continue in practice. Then, users can be viewed as co-designers of objects. That is why von Hippel (2005: 93) views lead users and user community as valuable sources of innovation.
The agency of material objects and devices is not an anthropomorphic illusion. Objects can affect humans with a peculiar type of agency. They have the ability ‘to make one do’ (faire-faire) and ‘make actions happen’. Through inter-objective devices they can frame subjects’ action and shape a model-user. Through sensory experience and sensory exploration they can change subject’s action and shape subject’s identity. Conversely the process of familiarisation changes objects. Subjects/objects interactive relationships change the distribution of competence and shape all actants. When a practice leads to a way of using and not only to a quasi-automated action programme, it seems that the theme of adjustment is the most relevant issue to look at bodily learning and embodied familiarisation.
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Dear Gilles Marion,
With great interest, I have read the manuscript of « The agency of material objects in the context of everyday consumption: a review », that you submitted to Valuation Studies. I have received three anonymous reviews of your manuscript who see value in the submission but differ in their judgement of the overall contribution and of the work that would be required to turn the paper into a contribution to the journal. Finally, I have discussed the paper with the board of editors before finalising this editorial decision letter.
Based on this assessment I regret to say that we have decided not to publish it in Valuation Studies. Although we see promise in the paper, and the reviewers give many constructive suggestions for how to develop the argument, we feel their objections are substantial and would require more than revisions. Given their extensive comments, we hope the reviews are of interest you and help you when developing the paper.
We are sorry to disappoint you and I hope it will not deter you from submitting articles to us in future.
Associate editor, Valuation Studies
This crystal clear review paper discusses the tendency of marketing to focus on objects as market goods only, with little consideration for what happens beyond the point of purchase. It then relies on a rich literature, mostly borrowed from anthropology and sociology, to show the importance of use value on the one hand, and object-user relationships on the other hand. As such, the paper will certainly work as an up-to-date and useful introduction to the sociology of objects and its potential contribution to marketing or market studies. This said, taking the following issues into account could improve the paper.
The paper alludes to the postmodern approach of consumption without quoting any reference. This could easily be corrected; works on the topic abound (see the contributions of Cova, Fuat Firat, Sherry, etc.).
The thesis of the paper is very close to the argument developed by Cochoy and Mallard in their recent contribution to the Handbook of consumer culture (Sage, 2018) (partially available on Google books) so it would make sense to mention this text.
The paper repeatedly refers to the notion of agency but provides little background about the notion. Several works could fill this loophole (Pickering, Cooren, etc.).
When talking about the « action programme » of objects or about use instructions, the author could refer explicitly to Akrich’s notion of « script » (the relevant text is already present in the reference list).
Suggesting that « most of the prevailing theories of consumption remain silent » about the use value of objects is largely exaggerated. At the end of the 1980s, consumer researchers energetically fought to extend the study of consumption beyond the point of purchase, see for instance Holbrook’s famous 1984 paper, « Belk, Granzin and the three bears » where the author evokes the following remark made by a reviewer about Holbrook and Hirschman 1982 paper: « I suppose the authors would claim that sleeping involves the consumption of sheets. » Holbrook mischievously remarks that two weeks after an ad from Burlington Mills displayed the following motto: « never go to bed with a sheet you don’t love. » Beyond this anecdote, consumer research largely built its identity on the distinction between consumption as purchase (addressed by marketing management) and consumption as use (addressed by consumer research). The author could benefit from a reference to Callon’s distinction between products (hot malleable entities developed in labs and factories) and goods (cold stable objects circulated on the market) (see Callon, Méadel and Rabeharisoa’s paper published in Economy and Society, 2002). The author seems to insist on a third state, where goods recover their malleable character through use. He or she could also refer to ANT to strengthen the idea, see Akrich, Callon and Latour’s famous diptych, « The key to success in innovation » and the formula: « adopting it is adapting it. »
In the end, the paper alludes to design, its political dimension, and the efforts made to incorporate various values into the objects. Referring to the book edited by Harrison et al. on « Concerned markets » would make sense in this respect.
Saying that consumption is an activity of production and not destruction is unnecessarily provocative: it can be both (when you consume toilet paper, I assume you don’t product much!).
The example of windsurfing develops somewhat predictable arguments; it would make sense to cut half of these developments at least.
The notion of hand tool (opposed to machines) is too restrictive, because it excludes other tools connected to the body but not to the hand (see skates, balls, skis, headphones, glasses, and so on). I would rather suggest talking in terms of « body tools ».
The conclusion is far too short and does not deliver more than a brief summary of the paper. It should at least go back to the introduction and the discussion of the marketing literature. It should better stress the author’s distinctive contribution and what he possibly sees as areas that still deserve attention.
The paper overlooks major recent developments that challenge its point of view and that would thus deserve and even need to be addressed. In particular, the paper does not say anything about the recent tendency to sell « use » rather than the goods behind: people buy less and less CDs or DVDs but subscribe more and more to Spotify or Netflix; some people don’t buy cars or bikes but prefer relying on car rental or bike sharing systems; and so on. The paper would greatly benefit to address these hot developments on which there is a growing literature. By ignoring them, the paper faces the risk to talk about a world that is somewhat outmoded and well behind the hottest transformations of the consumption scene.
The paper is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, it pretends to move away from the narrow view of economics and marketing management, but on the other hand, it pushes the idea of use as the sole definition of objects. This is a highly utilitarian and restrictive view of non-human entities. Do we not develop other relationships with the objects we buy than just « use »? Do not object exist as companions, things that are around us but that we also forget, and so on.
Thank you for this opportunity to read this paper. It tackles an interesting and relevant issue – that of the distribution of agency of material objects and subjects. Of course, by tackling this particular issue, the author(s) also tackle a very weighty baggage of conceptual treatments of object-value and object-agency, ranging (as they point out) from Aristotle all the way to relatively recent practice theory.
My sense is that at this point in time, this baggage weighs somewhat too heavily on the author’s shoulders who tries to do too much in the paper by reviewing this 3000 year history of subject-object relations in its entirety. The result is that the paper is a relatively unfocused read, and though there’s much to contemplate in it, the author’s original ideas and contribution get completely lost in a sea of references to thinkers from various conceptual and philosophical corners. One of the main problems with this is that the author does not give the reader much of a steer through this review either in terms of structure (section titles and content overlap frequently, there’s no clear red thread) or indeed in terms of pointing out their original contribution. Perhaps worse, thinkers are often treated at a very superficial level and sometimes only name-checked; theories are at times mixed up and often remain unnamed (for instance writers such as Latour are quoted but not put into their historical or philosophical context and pedigree). This is a shame as the reader starts doubting, perhaps wrongly, the author’s competence in comparing and contrasting what are very different conceptual edifices.
I see a possibility for a rewriting of this paper where the author starts talking about shifting competences between subjects and objects. I get that a lot of the previous sections build up to this point, but this may need to be spelled out more clearly so that the reader knows and can anticipate what’s coming up. Also, there’s some good stuff on shifting competences but it’s partly in the Section on ‘The dynamic of competence’ and partly in the section on ‘The agency of material objects and the role of adjustments’. I wonder if the notion of hacking could be fruitfully employed; as far as I understand (and I’m sure there’s a literature on this by now), hacking is to use a subject’s competence or expertise to enhance the competence or perhaps use value of the object, in an adjustment process. This would also allow the author to go beyond notions of scripting, for instance, which are quite old, or ‘simple’ interobjectivity such as in Winner’s work. Properly thinking through what this opening up of competence to users means for the design process may also be quite interesting (though I would certainly not go down the open innovation/Van Hippel route on this!).
So, to salvage this paper, in my opinion the author needs to redraw their steps and really think through:
a) what the paper’s original contribution should be, and in my opinion this should be around adjustments and shifting competences, possibly under the banner of hacking (but I will leave this up to the author to decide)
b) what it can and can’t tackle conceptually in the light of this contribution – it can’t do justice to 3000 years of object thinking –
c) tighten and deepen the conceptual references; make the conceptual part much more coherent, engage more deeply with the chosen theories, and if there are several needed carefully compare and contrast them in the light of the paper’s overall (new) aim
d) drive a clear red thread through the paper and make sure that each section follows logically and clearly from the preceding one (just one example – why talk about hand tools versus machines just after starting off with hacking? Is this distinction really relevant and conceptually justified?
e) be much clearer about where their own contributions are and where they’re reviewing stuff (e.g. where’s Table III coming from?)
f) Again, because this is really vital: be careful not to mash up very different conceptual worlds.
There’s a lot of work to do, but there may be an interesting contribution on the horizon. Best of luck with this endeavour.
This paper examines objects of consumption from a material perspective with a view of major theories, particularly use value vs. exchange value, with the goal of examining bodily learning and embodied familiarization.
First of all, let me thank you for giving me the chance to read an interesting paper on consumption and objects. I have been quite interested in object-based perspectives lately, so it was nice to read your take on this. While I am probably better at reviewing empirical papers, I hope that my comments will be useful even for this review of theory. They are aimed towards successful publication, either in this journal or another. Now comes the hard work part of writing.
Having reviewed the journal, I can see two main issues: structure and framing, particularly with the common issue of trying to do too much in one single paper.
First, while the abstract presented a fairly clear argument about the agency of material objects in everyday consumption, if that is your key argument, the structure of most of the paper does not actually help you in this goal.
I think that more work will be needed in terms of developing what you could call the backbone of the paper, i.e. the main thesis argument. Then each and every paragraph should clearly link to that key argument, either supporting, extending or nuancing. So for example in section one « Prevailing theories » (pg. 2) this currently reads as a « hits list » of the big names who have written in this area. They are currently overshadowing your contribution. Whereas I propose that you revise this to do two things. 1) Present an overarching framing that briefly synthesizes or summarizes these theories and explains why they are important in extending your argument of material objects in everyday consumption.
2) Then in each individual paragraph, you need at a minimum one sentence that clearly links the paragraph back to the section theme and your main thesis in the paper. Basically, tell the reader why they need to care about each point – what does it do in terms of your argument? If you can’t answer that question, then that might be a paragraph that you could cut to give you space for other modifications? If possible, it would be better to synthesize further, rather than structuring as one paragraph per theorist, by
3) grouping theories/theorists of the same kind into the same paragraph, although that can also be with contrasts, e.g. Bourdieu and de Certeau. Perhaps make a table to compare and contrast the theorists, and use that to group people into particular viewpoints. This can either be for your own purposes or for inclusion in the paper, depending on whether it adds to the text or not. Then the section wants a final summary paragraph that makes very clear how these works come together in support of your argument (or sometimes against, along with the reasons for disregarding them), with some anticipation of the next section. So for that first section, by page 7 I still did was not clear on what your take was on use value vs. exchange value, why readers should care, and how that related to the agency of consumption objects. All of these points would want to be in the section summary. So that is my advice for the first section but it is an issue that goes throughout the paper. What I suggest for this task is outlining the paper and using something like the advice in Wendy Belcher’s book to outline existing review/theory papers in the journal, then work towards that as a more ideal structure.
Second, I was wondering about the framing in terms of the theoretical assumptions and your key thesis statement. This encompassed a few related points. 1) Why is this going to be interesting for readers of Valuation Studies? I see discussion of use value, exchange value, attribution of value, etc. but not a cohesive and overriding thesis about value. Perhaps think as to whether the goal is a paper on consumption objects and agency, which then might be better in a consumption journal? Or if you might want to modify your main thesis to link a bit more with Valuation Studies. 2) While this might not be as much the case in Valuation Studies, each journal
comprises something of a conversation about particular topics, hence it would be good to try to link to some existing work in the journal. At the early stages of writing, it is best not to customize too much, perhaps, but at the point of submission, if you look to your bibliography and you have zero references to that journal, it might beg the question of whether another journal would be a better fit? I won’t suggest particular articles here, but I do think that making an effort to create these links will serve
you well, both in revising this manuscript and in future submissions.
Finally, although this may be fixed by the other two points, there was too much going on in this paper. So many different theorists and many different perspectives, from economics to economic anthropology. It was confusing. In this case, what I suggest is that you choose your dominant disciplinary/subfield perspective, e.g. economic anthropology or marketing, and write the paper from that perspective. That way, you can make connections to other interesting areas from a more solid home base, but this will allow you to more easily take for granted particular points and know where you will need to explain others. Do note that here the audience are the interdisciplinary readers of Valuation Studies, and that should be a focus for your framing as noted above, however, I think the point still stands as it is also good to reveal one’s home perspective, as it were, and that way, readers can more easily see where you would be expected to understand about your particular topic.
Again, thank you for letting me read this interesting paper and I hope my comments will be helpful toward publication. You definitely have some hard work ahead of you, but I think the resulting clarity and refinement will be well worth the effort. Best of luck.
Smaller points / thoughts to ponder as you go forward
– How do the different perspectives differ on the use/exchange value distinction? How does this relate to your agency of objects framing?
– What about investment value? Is this useful for your typology and thinking?
– Pg. 8 – singularization – need to define (and define all other theoretical terms at first use)
– Pg. 11 – this seems to be the beginning of the key points about value and could this perhaps be better in the beginning of the paper, if speaking to Valuation Studies readers? This is a long way to go to get to your key points.
– Pg. 11 – identity – need to define this and qualification process
– Pg. 13 – « Therefore the value of objects… » – does this help your main thesis? If not, could it be dropped? Otherwise, explain why we need to know it.
– Pg. 15 – windsurfing material seems like a different paper, one on expertise and learning. Need to decide whether this fits the issue of material agency and value, then strongly linked back to the paper’s backbone. Otherwise, I’d advice taking it out, and perhaps use it as the start of a different paper on cognitive processes, learning, etc. (This is totally normal and expected with research and I am frequently using cut sections to begin new manuscripts.) That material seems like it might benefit from more reading of ANT to develop the ways you are talking about the connections between objects and also people. Seems like that could even be an empirical paper if you put in ethnography or e.g. instruction manual data about how to windsurf?
– Pg. 23 – now looking at the everyday practices of objects, which does link back to your main argument. Note that the practice perspective (generally) does not attribute agency to the object, but only to people and animals. See Schatzki, Nicolini, etc.
– Generally the paper seems to waver between an ANT perspective or a practices perspective, so I would suggest looking at those and other theories relating to objects and consumption, then make a deliberate decision as to which perspective you want to adopt in this paper. Note that you can then pick a different framing to use in another paper.
References that might be of interest, either now or later:
Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in twelve weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Sage.
Karpik, L. (2010). Valuing the unique: The economics of singularities (N. Scott, Trans.). Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.
Nicolini, D. (2012). Practice theory, work, and organization: An introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2010). Practice in research: Phenomenon, perspective and philosophy. In D. Golsorkhi, L. Rouleau, D. Seidl & E. Vaara (Eds.), Cambridge handbook of strategy as practice (pp. 23-33). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ridgeway, Cecilia L., and Shelley J. Correll. 2006. « Consensus and the Creation of Status Beliefs. » Social Forces 85:431-453.
Schatzki, T. R., Knorr Cetina, K., & von Savigny, E. (2001). The practice turn in contemporary theory. London: Routledge.